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My New American Life

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
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  • Posted May 11, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A funny satire with memorable characters

    My New American Life is whip-smart funny. Satire is not always easy to pull off on the written page , and Prose does it amazingly well. Her writing, especially of Lula's thoughts, had me cracking up, like this one: "Lula knew that some Americans cheered every time INS agents raided factories and shoved dark little chicken-packagers into the backs of trucks. She'd seen the guys on Fox News calling for every immigrant except German supermodels and Japanese baseball players to be deported, no questions asked." Lula wants desperately to grab a hold of the American dream, but her job as a nanny to an 17-year-old young man leaves her bored and stuck in the suburbs with no friends and nothing to do. Prose makes you feel her stifling suffocation. When the wanna-be Sopranos Albanians show up and ask her to "hold on to" a gun for them, Lula does as she's asked, even though she knows this could lead to trouble for her and her employer and her deportation. Yet, strangely, she cannot say no to them; and besides, it's a little excitement. I usually identify with at least one of the characters in a novel that I read, but I could not identify with anyone in this book, yet that did not stop me from enjoying it. I live in New York City, a city that runs because of its immigrant population, and this book gave me a new perspective on the people who leave their families behind to start a new life elsewhere. Lula misses her homeland; she cries "for her once-beautiful homeland now in the hands of toxic dumpers and sex traffickers and money launderers. She cried for missing her country, for not missing it, for having nothing to miss. She cried for the loneliness and uncertainty of her life among strangers who could still change her mind and make her go home." All of the characters are interesting: sad sacks Mister Stanley and his friend Don (both divorced and lost), young Zeke (I just wanted to hug him and tell him it will be all right), the Albanians (a riot!) and Lula's friend Dunia, who hits the immigrant lottery by finding a rich man to marry. There are so many fantastic scenes- at the restaurant where Lula gets a celebratory citizenship dinner with Zeke, his dad, Don and his caustic daughter, Lula's date with Alvo, the college trip- all are sharp and memorable. Prose successfully combines the comic and the tragic, and throws in some politics, like Don's work with detainees at Guantanemo. Her portrait of American life soon after 9/11 (through Lula's eyes) is vivid and thought-provoking.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 30, 2011

    Fabulous Summer Read

    Surprise! Surprise! Francine Prose isn't a literary snobwriter after all. Who woulda thunk? "My New American Life" is breezy, funny, thoughtful -- a good summer time read. I swore I'd never tackle Prose again after "Blue Angel." "My New American Life" reads like a morality "play" on middle-class American values as seen through the eyes of a pert and educated twenty-six year old Albanian nanny. It's "funny" (like Andy Kaufman and Carol Kane were on the sitcom"Taxi). The book reads like a first novel which, given Ms. Prose accomplishments, is quite an accomplishment and refreshing. I think of Einstein suggesting, "Simple but no simplier." Cheers to Ms. Prose. I felt like I was in the hands of a master when reading her book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2011

    A Funny and Strangely Satisfying Book

    In the final scene our heroine, who cannot drive, is stuck in traffic in an almost certainly stolen SUV, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, leaving behind a home where she cannot stay, but where they aren't ready for her to leave, towards an apartment where she'll be able to stay - at most - a few months.

    Lula is an Albanian emigre during the presidency of Bush the Younger post 911, precisely at the time when America was at its most xenophobic. After working illegally as a waitress she lands work as a part time nanny to the teenage son of an investment banker abandonned by his mentally ill wife. Things seem to be going well - or as well as Lula could hope - when three of her countrymen show up and ask her to hold onto a gun for them.

    An immigrant perspective on the United States provides an ideal satiric vantage point, as writers have long known. Prose supplies a nice additional touch by making Lula herself a story teller. At the behest of her employer and the lawyer who's working to secure her a greencard - two liberals of the sort naively eager to hear tales of hardship - Lula writes "true stories" of Albania, fabricated patchworks of history and fairytale. It's the sort of thing that happens everyday to people of all ethnicities asked to "perform" their identities. Lula spins out improbable accounts in writing as well as conversation, withholding the real but equally improbable truth.

    The novel is funny, charming, and well-written, and Prose keeps us dangling at the edges of things that don't quite happen: affairs that don't quite come off, dysfunctional families that manage to stay on just this side of functionality, guns the fire, but not fatally. And truth to tell, the experience is at times frustrating for the reader - I found myself longing for something more, something richer, something greater at stake, but then at the end - unaccountably, to me - the novel comes together in an entirely fulfilling way.

    In the last scene of Lula driving across a bridge, I realized that Prose's formless story catches the essence a New American Life, of American Life, and maybe Life in General: hopping from stone to stone, always unfinished, always provisional, making it up as we go along.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A bit slow in places, but a wonderful overview of achieving the 'American Dream'

    Francine Prose has been a writer of many incredible stories from fiction to nonfiction, to Young Adult novels. With this newest project, this fantastic author offers a dark comic novel that covers everything from immigration to all facets of American culture. The lead character is Lula, a twenty-six-year-old Albanian woman who lies in order to obtain her visa to come to New York City, leaving behind her birthplace - Post-Communist Albania. Lula is fortunate enough to become a caretaker for a teenage boy, which allows her to relocate to a New Jersey suburb. Moving in with Mister Stanley - a college professor who has turned into an investment banker - and his child, Zeke, Lula takes on the role of helper and watcher to the young man. Mister Stanley works with his friend - a hotshot lawyer named Don Settebello - as they try to help Lula with her legal status and win her a work permit so that she can stay in America. Lula, although bored a bit with her job of full-time caretaker, finds herself face-to-face with her own countrymen, as they pull up outside her door in a brand new Lexus SUV. They identify themselves as friends of Lula's cousin and ask that she take care of a handgun for them. Which she does - not only to back up her Albanian "friends" but also because she finds herself unbelievably attracted to Alvo - an Albanian who leads this band of men. As Lula begins to find herself being stalked - and hoping immensely that her stalker is Alvo - Lula tries her best to soak up as much American knowledge as she can. This novel not only addresses the subjects of immigration and the politics that came from the first post 9/11 years, but also offers an in-depth look into the passion of Lula, a person who wishes to live a life that involves humor, a bit of danger, and a way to grab on to her American dream. This story shows how a person wishes desperately to become an American and goes through the struggle of becoming a stranger in a strange world. Not only does this author do a wonderful job of explaining life with just the right amount of humor and drama combined, but she also offers a true study of post 9/11 America. Quill Says: Although a little slow in places, many readers will find this an interesting book and a wonderful overview of achieving the 'American dream.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Nobody is spared satire's jarring wink in "My New American

    Nobody is spared satire's jarring wink in "My New American Life", necessitating a literary group hug of all the characters by the book's final pages. Just about everything here put a knowing smile on my face, yet there were so many surprises by the end. Lula, our twenty-something protagonist, is both smart enough to bring much of her Albanian survival skills to the U.S., while too naive to look objectively at the American legal system and her bland yet benevolent employer. It leads to a huge amount of humor and a more compassionate look at everyone in this tiny social stratosphere. I may have wanted less social commentary, more logic and more action, but then again I might be too slow of a reader. "My New American Life" does what the best novels do - provide us a fun ride, with our eyes wide open at the end.

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    Posted April 27, 2011

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